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Monday, June 2, 2008

Who Leads the Generational Gap on Allied Drive?

I must precede my words with the statement that I do not purport to represent anyone other than myself. My blog reflects my opinions, my observations and my life experiences, and I equally support anyone in our community who wishes to express their opinions, observations or life experiences regardless of what they are or what statements they make. I may not agree, but I wholly support everyone's right to express themselves.

The very fuel that produced this blog was rooted in my feelings of being marginalized among the voices that represent our community. Throughout all the various politics that have taken place over the years I have spent here, my experience has been that some voices express our interests while others fall to the wayside. I did not find it effective to battle at meetings over what defines us as Allied Drive residents and I do not have the energy to figure out political agendas of anyone who comes forward to say this is what all of Allied Drive wants.

I would be the first to say that no one person, or not even a group of 30 individuals could accurately reflect what all the residents of Allied Drive want. Anyone who has knocked on doors here would know that there are so many different people here of different races, ages, educational levels, income levels, cultural backgrounds and primary languages spoken. If there existed a group of people that represented all the various groups of residents, I could not see there being any way that they could agree on something so minimal as the food served at a meal, let alone more important issues that relate to housing, education or economics. I think that is why there are so many groups and associations out here - to allow for something for everyone to belong to.

However in such a truly diverse community, it is inevitable that some voices will rise and others will be diluted, and it is all based on how much energy one wants to put into ensuring their voice is heard. Not too long ago, I was quoted as saying how can anyone get upset over being put out of Allied Drive? Really speaking, if all of us were told that this area was being turned into a sanctuary for homeless cats and we all must leave, though our people are diverse, we are common in the fact that we are survivors. We will make do. I think most of us, in this hypothetical example, would not divert the energy into voicing the unfairness of cats taking precedence over people. We will just do what we need to do to ensure our survival. If big man says it's time to go, I think it is time to go.

So among all the things in life we could divert our energy to, our kids, our dogs, our careers, our credit reports, our family relations, how many of us would consider it a wise investment of time and energy to combat the politics of voices representing Allied Drive to say something like "Hey, I think with some education and support and a lot of self-confidence building, many people here could become responsible home owners, and I think that would impact Madison's poverty issues"? I'll tell you from personal experience that I will say something like that once, twice, maybe three times, and maybe if I am truly frustrated, I'll voice it one more time, but after that, if I am still made to feel like a troll who has these ideas and concepts that are so ludicrous and far-fetched, I am basically done talking about it.

I love blogging because it provides a document that anyone in the world can reference without putting me in the frustrating position of repeating myself. So I journal today about who leads the generational gap on Allied Drive.

About a year ago, the entire staff at my work went to a motivational retreat in Milwaukee where various celebrities talked about success and perseverance. One of the esteemed speakers was none other than Mr. Bill Cosby. What struck me as a parallel between Mr. Cosby and my parents is with some of our elders who disapprove of the younger generation and the direction they are guiding our community. Similarly, Mr. Cosby disapproves of the direction the younger generation is taking his community. He often publicly voices his disapproval of hip-hop culture and the lifestyles of the younger generation. His comments prompted several guardians of the younger generation to voice their defense and the New York Times referred to the battle as "generational warfare."

One of the arguments is that the younger generation is a product of the older one and it is hypocritical for the older generation to criticize the younger generation without taking a look at themselves first. Mr. Cosby accuses today's youth of neglecting their history and overlooking the gains paid for by the blood of their ancestors. The flipside to this accusation refers to Mr. Cosby's younger years and the lessons he preached back then. Ironically, many popular hip-hop artists cite Mr. Bill Cosby as their inspiration.

Through the winter months, we had opened our home to many of the youth that "hang out" on the streets of Allied Drive to come someplace safe where they can eat (if we have food available), drink some soda and play some video games. Through this experience, I got to know how savvy our 15 and 16 year olds are when it comes to basic survival. Many of these kids were living in homes that were not very functional in the traditional sense, and in many ways, they were out on their own. I always heard people say that kids are amazing, but until I really got to know some of the youth that our community views as thugs or trouble, I never really appreciated it.

So one day, we have about 5 young people over at our place, all of whom are hungry, so we order pizza, of course with it's accompanying challenges of getting a pizza delivery on Allied Drive. Simultaneously, one of the hip-hop tracks from the video games came on that had the line "If ya hungry, pizzaman, he don't come around here" ... many of the other lyrics in the song were identified as a reflection of their own experiences of "life on the street" here on Allied Drive (not to undermine a real "life on the street" that youth experience in far more serious "ghettos" within major cities like Chicago or LA). For months onward, when that song came on, it was referred to as the Allied Drive anthem and it was expected that at that moment, in the video game, the player would prevail. How dare you die off while the Allied anthem is on! We had a lot of fun together, despite all the ugliness that likely was experienced outside of our home.

I made our declaration of the Allied anthem public in recognition of what I experienced with the kids I hung out with over the winter months. I wish more people could see what I saw or I wish some of the kids would have to courage or drive to write something that could be published and shared for the rest of Madison (and the world) to see that really reflects what is going through their minds. Maybe one day that will happen, but for now, this song is my best reflection of their experience as I see it.

Recently, the Allied Dunn's Marsh Neighborhood Association advised me that they are considering formal action, such as a protest, against my personal declaration of this song being an anthem without the Association's consent. I would like to make clear that the Allied Dunn's Marsh Neighborhood Association does not endorse anything that I say or do. And my declaration of this song as the anthem was in fun and jest, just as many of our community members proclaim themselves to be the "mayor of Allied Drive". There was a request to pull the song down, however after many experiences of witnessing kids being censored or otherwise blocked in expressing their thoughts and experiences in one form or another, I don't feel comfortable doing so. I will say that the Allied Drive anthem is in no way a formal anthem declared by Ms. Alice Howard or the Allied Dunn's Marsh Neighborhood Association, so please do not think that this song represents her or those associated with her.

All this makes me think of the generational gap and who will prevail when it comes to representing our collective voices. I have no doubt about it, the elders will prevail. If they decide to dedicate their energy into a formal protest, I am certain that the arguments will be compelling as to why such a statement is crude or inappropriate. There is always the issue of representing the positive - look at any debate about the validity of hip-hop as an expression of life. It all boils down to the question of whether life imitates art or if art imitates life.

Regardless, I would urge all members of our community the right to express themselves without any manipulation or censorship in what they wish to portray as their life experience or their opinions. Not everyone is going to agree, and I assume that my readers understand that my opinions are just that, my opinions. Accept them as that, and if you want to make your own judgment calls, feel free to do so, however make the effort to make sound judgments with complete information.

When our elders complain about our generation drinking or swearing or even having sex, we are also accused of ignoring our roots, forgetting where we came from and disregarding the sacrifices that our parents made to ensure opportunities for us. I never recall speaking to any of our youth and feeling that is the case. What I have observed however is that after being accused of not caring, we don't really care enough to set the record straight.

I can completely relate to what I have heard many kids say ... whatever.